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Main-Travelled Roads   By: (1860-1940)

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Prepared by David Reed or

Main Travelled Roads


Hamlin Garland


My Father And Mother Whose Half Century Pilgrimage on the Main Travelled Road of Life Has Brought Them Only Toil and Deprivation, This Book of Stories Is Dedicated By a Son to Whom Every Day Brings a Deepening Sense of His Parents' Silent Heroism

The main travelled road in the West (as everywhere) is hot and dusty in summer, and desolate and drear with mud in fall and spring, and in winter the winds sweep the snow across it; but it does sometimes cross a rich meadow where the songs of the larks and bobolinks and blackbirds are tangled. Follow it far enough, it may lead past a bend in the river where the water laughs eternally over its shallows.

Mainly it is long and wearyful and has a dull little town at one end, and a home of toil at the other. Like the main travelled road of life, it is traversed by many classes of people, but the poor and the weary predominate.

Table of Contents

Preface A Branch Road Up the Coulee Among the Corn Rows The Return of a Private Under the Lion's Paw The Creamery Man A Day's Pleasure Mrs Ripley's Trip Uncle Ethan Ripley God's Ravens A "Good Fellow's" Wife


In the summer of 1887, after having been three years in Boston and six years absent from my old home in northern Iowa, I found myself with money enough to pay my railway fare to Ordway, South Dakota, where my father and mother were living, and as it cost very little extra to go by way of Dubuque and Charles City, I planned to visit Osage, Iowa, and the farm we had opened on Dry Run prairie in 1871.

Up to this time I had written only a few poems and some articles descriptive of boy life on the prairie, although I was doing a good deal of thinking and lecturing on land reform, and was regarded as a very intense disciple of Herbert Spencer and Henry George a singular combination, as I see it now. On my way westward, that summer day in 1887, rural life presented itself from an entirely new angle. The ugliness, the endless drudgery, and the loneliness of the farmer's lot smote me with stern insistence. I was the militant reformer.

The farther I got from Chicago the more depressing the landscape became. It was bad enough in our former home in Mitchell County, but my pity grew more intense as I passed from northwest Iowa into southern Dakota. The houses, bare as boxes, dropped on the treeless plains, the barbed wire fences running at right angles, and the towns mere assemblages of flimsy wooden sheds with painted pine battlement, produced on me the effect of an almost helpless and sterile poverty.

My dark mood was deepened into bitterness by my father's farm, where I found my mother imprisoned in a small cabin on the enormous sunburned, treeless plain, with no expectation of ever living anywhere else. Deserted by her sons and failing in health, she endured the discomforts of her life uncomplainingly but my resentment of "things as they are" deepened during my talks with her neighbors, who were all housed in the same unshaded cabins in equal poverty and loneliness. The fact that at twenty seven I was without power to aid my mother in any substantial way added to my despairing mood.

My savings for the two years of my teaching in Boston were not sufficient to enable me to purchase my return ticket, and when my father offered me a stacker's wages in the harvest field I accepted and for two weeks or more proved my worth with the fork, which was still mightier with me than the pen.

However, I did not entirely neglect the pen. In spite of the dust and heat of the wheat rieks I dreamed of poems and stories. My mind teemed with subjects for fiction, and one Sunday morning I set to work on a story which had been suggested to me by a talk with my mother, and a few hours later I read to her (seated on the low sill of that treeless cottage) the first two thousand words of "Mrs. Ripley's Trip," the first of the series of sketches which became Main Travelled Roads... Continue reading book >>

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